12/8/2012 - Interfaith Religious - Article Ref: IC1212-5342
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By: Rabbi Allen S. Maller
The history: In 200 BCE, King Antiochus III of Syria defeated Egypt and made the Land of Israel a part of the Seleucid Empire. King Antiochus III wanting to conciliate his new Jewish subjects guaranteed their right to "live according to their ancestral customs" and to continue to practice their religion in the Temple of Jerusalem. However in 175 BCE, his son Antiochus IV invaded Judea to put in power a pro Syrian high Priest. As the ancient Jewish historian Josephus relates, "The king came upon the Jews with a great army, took their city by force, slew a great multitude of those that favored Egypt, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple (erecting an idol in it that looked like himself, and thus) put a stop to the daily offerings (to God) for three years and six months."
The tradition: When the Temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus be erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the Temple. This provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. They became known as HaMakabim (the Hammers). In 166 BCE Mattathias died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event.
The oil: Judah ordered the Temple to be purified, and a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one. According to the rabbis, pure olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough pure oil to burn for one day, yet it lasted for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of pure oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.
The lights: Can be candles or oil lamps. Most Jewish homes have a special candelabrum referred to as a hanukkiah, or an oil lamp holder for Hanukkah, which holds eight lights plus the additional shamash light. The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not to "light the house within", but rather to "illuminate the house without," so passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday's miracle. So lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. Some Ashkenazim (Jews from European Lands) have a separate menorah for each family member (customs vary), whereas most Sephardim (Jews from Muslim Lands) light one for the whole household. Only when there was danger of antisemitic persecution were lamps supposed to be hidden from public view, as was the case in Persia under the rule of the Zoroastrians, or in parts of Europe before and during World War II.
A modern tale: Aisha,Talyah and their parents were standing just outside their front door, admiring their newly lit Hanukiya, when a power failure occurred. The street lights went out. The house lights went out. It was dark almost everywhere around them. The only lights they could see on the whole block were from the Hanukiya in the window of one house across the street, and from their own Hanukiya on the porch. After a few minuets, several of their neighbors, who did not want to sit in their dark houses, came over to join them.
|"It is a good thing you
have those candles." said one neighbor. "I am afraid of the dark." |
"Why do you have the menorah outside?" asked another neighbor.
"It is an old tradition" said Mrs. Cohen. "Jews are supposed to publicize the miracle of Hanukah to all the people around them."
"You mean the oil that lasted for eight days." said the neighbor who knew what a menorah was.
"Yes " said Aisha, "The oil is the symbol of hope and faith. If the Maccabees had not lit the lights in the restored Temple in Jerusalem, because they were afraid the lights would go out the next day, the miracle would not have happened."
"You mean the miracle of the oil?"
"I mean the miracle that lots of times, things that you think will never happen, do happen, if you do not give up. If the Maccabees had not lit the oil lamps, how would they have found out that the oil could last for eight days." said Aisha.
And her sister Talyah added, "That is why we put the Hanukiya outside on the door step."
"Aren't you afraid the wind will blow out the lights?" asked the neighbor who was afraid of the dark..
"Most of the time it does on at least one or two evenings." said Mrs. Cohen. "That is why we put another Hanukiya in the window. You should always trust in God, but if you can arrange for back up, you should do it. After all, you should not test God by expecting God to stop the winds every evening for eight days. Other people might need the wind."
"I thought Hanukah was the festival of freedom." said another neighbor. "What does all this have to do with freedom?"
Mr. Cohen answered, "Hanuka is a celebration of religious freedom; especially the freedom of all religious minorities to observe their religious practices with equal treatment and respect. But freedom is not only freedom from oppression. It is also freedom to do the right things, and to become a really good loving person. A free person is not free to hurt or insult other people or their religious' beliefs. Freedom comes from fulfilling your responsibilities to other people, to nature, and to God."
They all stood in the dark talking about the importance of trust in God, hope and religious freedom for all people. Each had something to say and add. They could have gone on and on for a long time but just then the power came on and the lights lit up. The neighbors thanked the Cohen family for all they had learned, and the neighbor who was afraid of the dark said to them, "I think I will go to Church next Sunday."